Politics & Policy

Wendy vs. Sarah: A Thought Experiment

Imagine if Wendy Davis got the Palin treatment.

Here we go again: sexist tropes being used against a high-profile female political candidate who happens to be a working mom from Alaska Texas.

Last week, an article in the Dallas Morning News purported to correct the biography of Wendy Davis, the Democratic candidate for Texas governor. While these alleged discrepancies would be hardly a blip on a male candidate’s record, they have unleashed a barrage of attacks straight out of the GOP’s anti-woman playbook.

A number of right-wing magazines ran cover stories pandering to the prurient, 1950s mindset of their readership. The Weekly Standard, for example, featured a scantily clad Davis next to the headline: “How Do You Solve a Problem Like Wendy?” and declared her “bad news for the Democratic Party — and for everyone else, too.”

It goes without saying that most of the attacks against Davis are sexist. Her critics claim to be concerned about the factual inaccuracies in her personal backstory, but the response from some on the right suggests that, for them, Davis’s real transgressions may lie elsewhere. 

Davis’s real sin isn’t playing fast and loose with her biography. It’s making life choices they disagree with — including the decision, as a mother, to prioritize her career. And it’s hard to imagine those choices generating criticism were Wendy Davis a man.

Some pundits, for example, have expressed concern that Davis won’t be able to devote enough time to her children if she is elected governor. Wing-nut bloggers, beholden to the Huckabeean notion that women will say anything or sleep with anyone to get ahead, have even questioned whether Davis actually gave birth to her youngest child. These accusations are clearly intended to cast Davis as just another one of Ronald Reagan’s “welfare queens.” And that’s hardly the only form of trutherism infecting the race.

The blowhards at Fox News have made Davis a prime target in the right-wing network’s jihad against powerful women. A cackling Chris Wallace went so far as to offer his Fox News Sunday viewers “an upper” by showing a video clip portraying Davis as a mentally unstable, publicity-obsessed bimbo who doesn’t know how many days are in the month of February.

Wallace has also described Davis as “profoundly stupid” for launching a 13-hour filibuster to block a late-term-abortion ban in the Texas legislature, which hardly comes as a surprise given Fox’s long history of attacking the intelligence of female politicians and working moms. Conservative comedian Dennis Miller continues to appear on Fox after calling Davis a “dumb twat” and a “c***,” while Republican super PACs refuse to return his million-dollar donations.

As is often the case when it comes to the right-wing media, crucial context surrounding Davis’s filibuster was ignored — for example, the fact that just 62 percent of Americans, and only 68 percent of women, support a ban on abortion after 20 weeks. But rather than explore the issue in depth, conservatives have decided to obsess over extraneous details such as Davis’s iconic pink running shoes.

Perhaps the most disgusting example of right-wing misogyny was Bill O’Reilly’s on-air invitation to Fox viewers to urinate and defecate in Davis’s mouth. Although O’Reilly was ultimately forced to resign, his conservative colleagues refused to condemn his sexist remarks. Washington Post columnist George Will argued that O’Reilly “was making a very legitimate point about Wendy Davis,” while Wallace dodged the issue altogether by saying he was “not a media critic.”

Progressives are right to be outraged. If anything, the Wendy Davis controversy proves why liberals and all pro-woman Americans must keep holding the media accountable for the way they talk about male and female candidates differently.

— Andrew Stiles is a political reporter for National Review Online.

Andrew StilesAndrew Stiles is a political reporter for National Review Online. He previously worked at the Washington Free Beacon, and was an intern at The Hill newspaper. Stiles is a 2009 ...


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